Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean Stewois (another French dish)

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As it cooks the chorizo lends a fabulous smokiness to the sauce.

As everyone in my family knows, I’m somewhat of a cheat. I believe cheating wherever possible is an intelligent way of getting where you need to be with a minimum of hassle and stress. I cheat at things like boule and Monopoly and now and again I forget to tell MyFitnessPal about the chocolate croissant I inhaled on the school run because anyway food that isn’t eaten on a plate doesn’t count. The thing is, if I didn’t cheat I would regularly lose at things which would negatively impact my self-esteem, and since I’m so kak at games of all descriptions, it’s a survival mechanism I’ve had no choice but to hone over the years.

Like this past July in Copenhagen when we went for Sunday lunch at some friends who were spending the summer in a fancy house by the sea where the rich people of Denmark live. After a wonderful lunch of steak and fried potatoes (our hostess was French where they not only eat carbs but fry them and yet remain as thin as mist), we did what rich Danish and ordinary French people do and went out onto the lawn to play boule. I’m not great at boule, and while I’m not a bad loser as such it just gets embarrassing when you’re competing against a wafer-thin French girl who wears silk lingerie and not beige broeks like me (I know this because I snooped around and found a clothes horse hung with tiny, diaphanous items of underwear, like Barbie had one hell of a night) and you’re coming totally stone last, being beaten even by young children.

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Rich people of Denmark.

So, when the players ahead of me were distracted and talking about the various merits of a la-la-Pinot Noir I would subtly use my foot to get the ball into a more favourable position, significantly hoisting myself up in the rankings. The fact that I’d had several glasses of the above-mentioned Pinot Noir which impacted my balance somewhat and made me fall over once or twice alerting everyone to my tricks we don’t really need to go into, but they were polite enough to let me pretend I really came fourth.

Also when we play Monopoly, even when I try really hard to save and make sound financial decisions and not be like I am in real life somehow I end up alternately in jail or on Regent Street at the doorstep of the hotel my husband has yet again unkindly purchased and keeps laughing meanly when I land there round after round. So you can’t really blame me for taking advantage of the times my fellow players are momentarily distracted by the loud gwang of a hadeda landing on the roof and everyone gets up to look out the window to see if it’s a baddie come to kill us and I pilfer the money of the other players and hide it under the board so the theft is not immediately apparent. Because this is the only way I’m not bankrupt and out of the game within 15 minutes. And I know it’s not ideal that the people I’m stealing from are my own children, but on the other hand they need to learn that the world is full of robbers and swindlers and nobody should be trusted, least of all their own kin. But enough about that.

This French dish (which possibly isn’t even really, but it goes with the cheating theme and it does contain French tarragonois) is so ridiculously easy and yet appears quite fancy and sophisticated when you serve it to guests, so naturally it’s a hit with the likes of me. There are one or two things you can’t cheat with, though. It has very few ingredients, so you must buy good things. Pay more for your chicken and don’t even think about buying Chorizo from a poofy shop. It’s going to ruin everything and nobody will think you’re Nigella anymore which defeats the whole object of cooking for anybody ever. This is what you’ll need.

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No filter on earth can make raw chicken look appealing. But see how few ingredients 👍🏼

Ingredients:

  • Several chicken pieces
  • Chorizo
  • bacon
  • 2 tins of butter beans
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • dried French tarragonois
  • chicken stock
  • an onion
  • garlic
  • rosemary
  • a bay leaf

Method:

Fry your chicken in olive (or any damn) oil and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour if you feel like it. Remove browned chicken pieces from the pot and in the lovely, chickeny fat fry your bacon, then add your onion, garlic and chorizo not whole but sliced, obvs. When you’ve fried that for a while add your tomatoes, a tablespoon of tarragonois, chicken stock, fresh rosemary, 2 tins of butter beans and the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and let it simmer gently for a couple of hours. Serve with rice and/or crusty bread and a nice bottle of white. It’s very tasty and your friends will be impressed with your cooking skills. Also, the amazing thing about this dish is that halfway through cooking it you’ll find that you are thinner and also able to speak fluent French even if you didn’t speak a word of that language before. That surprised me quite a lot, but then life is full of surprises. Bon appetit!

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Jo’s Save-the-day Tuna Bake

tuna bake pic It would have looked better if the cheese grater hadn’t been in the dishwasher. Luckily it tasted the same.

This is about to become your children’s number one favourite dish, so if you make it once, be prepared to make it lots of times after that. Jo is Foundation Phase Head of Department at Muizenburg Primary School, one of those South African institutions which, quietly and without fuss, makes miracles happen every day. Jo plays a big part in stretching the school’s tiny budget so that kids from disadvantaged homes don’t fall through the cracks of a system not equipped to bail them out. This means putting in a lot of personal time, dipping into her own wallet and being super-creative about coming up with learning solutions.

A few years back her school won a prize for most integrated in the Western Cape (woo-hoo!). Jo deserves some big accolades which will come to her in time because that’s how the universe works. My kids ate this dish one evening at her house, and now I make it weekly, especially when there’s zip-diddly in the cupboards, everyone’s hungry and I am not driving to the Spar. It takes about twenty minutes from start to finish, and it’s not half bad with some salad and a glass of cold Sauv Blanc.

Ingredients:

Tuna in oil (because life is too short for the other kind)
Mayo (the cheap and nasty kind works fine)
One cup of rice
A small onion
Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Method
While your rice is cooking, chop that onion up finely as you can get it. In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice, tuna, raw onion and about six tablespoons of mayo. Season with salt and pepper, and put it in a baking dish. Cover with grated cheese, pop it under the grill for 10 minutes, and voila! Dinner is served.

Jo and Grant. Two very, very good people.
Jo and Grant. Two very, very good people.

Les Lentilles (yes, you guessed it – this dish is awfully very French)

Really, really good for wintry weather
Really, really good for wintry weather. Even if you only live in Cape Town.

Even though I don’t speak a word of the language (that’s not true, I know ‘les’) and I’ve only been to France once in my life for five minutes, I just know, deep down, that I’m French. Sometimes I’m also Italian, but mainly I’m more French. I get them, those people, with their fabulous dishes of cream and bone marrow and not caring when their husbands have affairs. Well, that part I don’t really get, but the rest I totally do.

My amazing friend Paul who owns Nomu came up with this recipe using fancy puy lentils and fish, but since I wouldn’t know a puy lentil if it had a tantrum on my head, I just use those brown ones you buy at Pick ‘n Pay. And because there wasn’t any fresh fish in my fridge that day or ever, I also substituted that for chorizo because I saw that someone once used that in another lentil dish. But the rest is totally, completely sort of Paul’s recipe.

When I make this dish it’s almost like I become Edith Piaf singing about having no regrets. You kind of want to put on a boa and swan about with a cigarette holder and say things that shock your children. But then you remember you’re actually just a mom cooking Thursday night supper, so you have to settle down and be content with a glass of red. And anyway, once I cooked in a boa and the feathers got in everything. This dish is easy, seriously tasty and quite stylish, actually. You wouldn’t be amiss serving it to guests with a nice ciabatta and a bottle of something dusky. Here’s how to access your inner grande dame:

Ingredients:

Brown lentils (they might be called green, but they are most definitely brown)
An onion (the red ones are bit sweeter, I find)
A clove of garlic (okay, three)
A carrot
Celery
Chorizo
Vegetable stock
Dried or fresh tarragon and whatever other herbs you have bumming around. Oreganum and thyme work nicely.
A bay leaf or two

Method:

Chop your onion, garlic, carrots and celery as finely as you can be bothered and fry them in a bit of olive oil. When the onion goes see-through, add your chopped chorizo and fry it up a bit. Add two cups of lentils, four cups of water, your veggie stock cube or powder, your bay leaf and your chopped up herbs. Put the lid on and let it simmer gently. Keep checking that you have enough water in your pot. If it gets too dry, add more. When the lentils are almost done (they should have a bit of a bite), take the lid off and let the rest of the water cook away. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Serve it in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil. SO very yum-ois.

Per’s Easy-peasy Paella

Doesn't that look like the real McCoy?
Doesn’t that look like the real McCoy?

This dish has always scared me a bit – the mussel shells and saffron rice looked so intimidating, but the other night Per found some frozen seafood we had leftover from a party, and rustled up a Paella which, I have to say, was better than the one we ate in Spain (and my friend Alison agreed, so it must be true). Actually, using frozen prawns worked just as well, and aside from the seafood, the stuff you need is really pretty basic. And even though you can pull this cheat version off in 20 minutes flat, it’s fancy enough to serve to guests and look like you’re pretty accomplished. And we like dishes like that. If you have a big wok, make it and serve it in that. Otherwise, a large frying pan or any shallow-ish pot will do.

You’ll need:

White rice
Frozen prawns and mussels
Two chicken breasts
A chorizo sausage (optional)
An onion
Two cloves of garlic
A tablespoon of dried paprika
A carrot
Saffron or turmeric
A red or green pepper or frozen peas or both
Chicken stock

Method:

Chop your onion, garlic, red or green pepper and carrot and fry it up in a bit of oil. If you have saffron, add a pinch, otherwise a teaspoon of turmeric works just as well. Sprinkle in your paprika. Add your chicken breasts chopped into bit-sized pieces and if you want to include Chorizo, chop it up and put that in now. Fry the meat up a bit so everything browns a little. Add a cup of rice, fry it up and bit, and then whack in two cups of chicken stock. Put the lid on, turn the heat down and leave it till nearly all the water’s been absorbed. Add your frozen seafood and peas, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper and put the lid back on for ten minutes or so, till the rest of the water disappears. And that’s it! Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread and a bottle of bubbly. It’s a party in a pot.

How to Make a Room Look Instantly Better

Pretty fancy, huh?
Pretty fancy, huh?

I’m crap at interior design, but sometimes – by accident – something just works. I got this vase for my birthday and I’ve been wanting to use it ever since. Yesterday, driving through Franschoek, these amazing arum lilies were everywhere. I got out the car and picked a whole bunch (you’re allowed to, they belong to the president), and put two of the longest in this vase (which, if I’m not mistaken, is from the Home Store). It was too big for the table so I plonked it down here and have been immensely pleased with myself ever since. Sometimes it takes a very small detail to make a room look fab.